Monday, January 28, 2008

Question & Answer With Rabbi Fishel Jacobs - A Story About The Baal Shem Tov [Part II]

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

Today, I came across Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 162:10, which states:

"...She should also take care when leaving the mikvah that her friend should meet her and touch her, so that she not be met first by an unclean thing such as a dog, a donkey, a pig, a horse, a metzora, or similar things, or by a person, ignorant in Torah, and not G-d-fearing or a non-Jew. If any of these meet her first, if she is G-d-fearing, she will return and immerse again."

This halacha instantly made me recall the answer from Rabbi Dovid Sears about the story contained in Degel Machaneh Ephraim about the Baal Shem Tov being afraid to touch an Arab after immersing in a mikveh.

Is this story an example of the Baal Shem Tov extracting the essence of a halacha and observing it in his own way, even though it only applies to a woman?

Rabbi Fishel Jacobs answers:

The halacha regarding a woman not seeing something impure when leaving the mikveh is a well-known halacha.

1) I think you're correct. The intention behind this halachah is quite straightforward. It is, as you note, a matter of retaining the bitul, the purity brought about by immersion in the mikveh, to remain with the wife. Meeting these things first would, accordingly, cause an interruption, of sorts, to this state of purity.

Let's note that the power of sight (and thought) on the future children is brought in many places. As a matter of fact, I dedicated an entire section to it in my book, Family Purity. That section is titled: Power of Thought on the Offspring (pg.132).

I don't have the text from which that Ba'al Shem Tov's story is extracted in front of me, at this time. But reading it on your site, would seem to indicate that the Ba'al Shem Tov had the same reason for his behavior. Specifically to not allow anything to cause a cessation of the purity brought about by his immersion.

Yes, it seems that his behavior was in the same spirit of the halacha of a wife leaving the mivkeh. However, I wouldn't be surprised if he had "other" sources for his behavior.

Though not having the text in front of me, I still enjoy Rabbi Sears's eloquent explanation of the "cause and effect" elicited by the Ba'al Shem's behavior. Yasher koach.

2) It's interesting to note that the Ramo (198:48) only lists: "something impure or a non-Jew." The other things brought in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch are mentioned in the Shach (198:61) which are: dog, donkey, a Jew ignorant of Torah, a pig, a metzorah. The Bodei Hashulchan (198:696) mentions: a cat.

In my sefer, Family Purity (pg. 125), this is our language: "When leaving the water, the 'Mikveh-lady' approaches and touches her. If she saw something impure first, for example a dog, cat, donkey, pig, or non-Jew, before seeing the 'Mikveh-lady' (or one of the other women in the mikveh even if she was niddah) ideally she should immerse again, if possible."

3) As an aside, I found one thing (perhaps two) dissimilar in this list. That is, the Jew ignorant of Torah (and perhaps the metzorah).

All the other things in this list, their bodies and souls, are drawn from shalosh kelipos hatmayos legomrei (three completely impure kelipos, שלש קליפות הטמאות לגמרי) [See the sixth chapter of Tanya].

On the other hand, the body of a Jew ignorant in Torah is from kelipos nogah (a kelipoh which has in it good, קליפת נוגה, first chapter of Tanya) and of course his soul is part of G-d (second chapter of Tanya).


At January 28, 2008 at 12:56:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All the other things in this list, their bodies and souls, are drawn from shalosh kelipos hatmayos legomrei

In case of goyim it is only if they aren't chasidey umoys.

At January 28, 2008 at 1:18:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sefer hatanya is probably the most racialist book in all history of yiddishkeit

At January 28, 2008 at 1:24:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not at all. Taniya doesn't give all details on the subject. There is a significant difference between an idolatrous evil goy, and ben Noyach who is a chosid umous. Tania just isn't speaking about it. Tania quotes there "Shaarey Kdusho" of Rabbi Chaim Vital.

At January 28, 2008 at 1:26:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, condition isn't static (i.e. that the soul of the goy is coming from klipoys tmeyoys). Therefore if the goy becomes chosid umoys - he elevates his soul.

At January 28, 2008 at 1:37:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So could you explain me how can a soul from the three negative klipot can move from this place to klipat Noga It is like if a carrot could become bean... It's impossible. So for the Alter Rebbe the soul of the non jew is sealed...

At January 28, 2008 at 1:46:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is obviously false, because any goy can become a chosid umoys through tshuvo. Even more - he can become a ger, elevating his soul even higher. Where did you find that his soul is "sealed"?

The counter proof to your statement can be found in "Toymer Dvoyro" of the Rama"k ztz"l, in the chapter speaking about midas haGvuro, where he says, that even though the source of the Kain's soul was bad, he could do tshuvo nevertheless, fixing himself.

At January 28, 2008 at 1:59:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I understand how you feel. But the words of the Tanya are merely quoting the ARI zal. However one understands it, this distinction is inescapable (consider the text of havdalah, for example).

A broader context in which this should be understood is taharos -- the category of halakhah dealing with tumah (ritual impurity) in the days of the Beis HaMikdosh.

A parallel from outside of Judaism would be the Hindu caste system and the strictures applying to the Brahmins, which still are followed by most Hindus today.

These inyanim clash with our western liberal sensibility, which I share -- but they are rooted in ancient tradition and can't be so easily dismissed by a religious Jew.

(I also think Bahaltener is right that there is a vast difference between the idolater and Noachide / righteous non-Jew -- a distinction Rav Yehudah HeChassid makes in Sefer Chassidim, too.)

At January 28, 2008 at 2:17:00 PM EST, Blogger Alice said...

ASJ asked me if this was offensive to me as a non-Jew (a Bat Noach)Here is what I said to him.

I think that the subject being discussed is beyond me in terms of my Torah education. It seems kooky to me, more than offensive. But maybe that's because I don't know what I'm talking about. Gentiles have to deal with the fact that there is some stuff in Torah that is really harsh towards non-Jews in the sense that some Jews strongly attribute certain characteristics to certain nations. And let's just face the cold, hard truth about this (because it's a mitzvah): Gentiles have been awful towards Jews since forever, so we haven't done much to disabuse anyone of these notions.

I am dedicating my life to making this better, because it is true that we have behaved like devils.
As loopy as it may seem, I want to undo all of the pain from the Holocaust and make sure it never happens again. What that really means is that I want to bring Moschiach. That's not nutty at all. What better thing could we do with our lives? That's what Jews are trying to do too. And there is a framework within Torah for us to help each other with this.

I don't know about the attributes of my soul versus that of a Jew. That's beyond me at this point in my learning. I certainly know for a fact that my entire life has been changed for the better in dramatic and visceral ways since finding Hashem and Torah. I feel elevated so maybe my soul has been elevated. Don't know. : )

At January 28, 2008 at 2:19:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the positive side, the Gemora in Brochos tells how Rav Gidal would sit near the mikveh entrance so that the women would see him as the walked out -- and this act of gazing upon a tzaddik would greatly benefit their future children.

At January 28, 2008 at 2:21:00 PM EST, Blogger Alice said...

Now if I were a cat or a mikveh lady I'd be really offended.

At January 28, 2008 at 3:47:00 PM EST, Blogger Akiva said...

Bill - the mitzvot of ritual purity are one of the areas of the Torah that are "chok", beyond an explanation. As we do not have a functional Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple), we aren't practically concerned with them today in most cases.

Women's mikvah is an exception.

The PC crowd has spent years trying to teach that men and women are the same. They're finally coming to the realization that they're not. Wanting them to be the same didn't make any difference. (Note I DIDN'T say better, worse, or not equal, just not-the-same.)

Similarly with souls, levels of souls, and missions of souls. Either there's something unique in the Jew's acceptance of Torah and obligation of mitzvot, or there's not.

At January 28, 2008 at 3:49:00 PM EST, Blogger Akiva said...

Rabbi Jacobs - your comment #2 surprised me. My wife is an experienced mikvah lady, with senior teachers, who follows strict halacha and adds many chumros. She's always been particular about touching the ladies when they come out, and giving brachos.

Yet, I've never heard of mikvah ladies making any point of avoiding their job when they are personally niddah, or any such chumrah in this area. Do you have a source for adding the point "even if they're niddah"?

At January 28, 2008 at 3:50:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there a problem if the Mikvah lady is Nidah?

At January 28, 2008 at 4:03:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Akiva: If you reread the quote from my book, you'll see that meeting another woman in the mikveh, even if that woman is niddah, does NOT adversely affect her immersing. (I think you simply read that line quickly, and thought that such a woman is one of the things listed earlier.

The source is Bodei Hashulchan 198:377.

Here is the quote, again, (to save from scrolling): "In my sefer, Family Purity (pg. 125), this is our language: "When leaving the water, the 'Mikveh-lady' approaches and touches her. If she saw something impure first, for example a dog, cat, donkey, pig, or non-Jew, before seeing the 'Mikveh-lady' (or one of the other women in the mikveh even if she was niddah) ideally she should immerse again, if possible."

I hope this clears that up.


At January 28, 2008 at 4:53:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill (above). The Tanya does not create new concepts. It does not present unique ideas.

It accents thoughts and themes already found in traditional Torah literature.

An intellectual glance at any footnoted Tanya will show that.

The specific concept noted above, specifically from which spiritual banks souls are drawn is based in Zoharistic literature.

It's also mentioned in the Oral Torah.

Those points aside. The attitude that a soul comes from kedusha holds tremendous ramification. More than privilege, that translates into obligation.

The Tanya's concept of kedusha is closely related to: Above self. Something higher than one's own nature.

The view that a Jew's psyche stems from the bank of kedusha does not translate into a releasing from responsibilities. To a puffiness, a grandeur.

It translates into a demand towards selflessness from ego. Selflessness from oneself.

To rise up to kedusha through Torah and mitzvahs.

That is what the Tanya says this psyche wants.

I don't see many people in the world fighting for that right.

Regarding those that do, I don't think anyone will stop them.


Rabbi Jacobs

At January 28, 2008 at 5:41:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Correction: The exact place where the Rama"k speaks about Kain's soul is in chapter 4 (speaking about "Bina").

Here is a quote:

Know that Cain was evil and of the serpent, yet it was said to him (Bereshit 4:
7): 'If you do well, shall it not be lifted up.' Do not think that there is no hope
for you because you belong to the evil side. This is false. Behold, if you do
well you can root yourself in the secret of Repentance, removing yourself to
that place, according to the secret of the good that is rooted there. For the
root of every Supernal bitterness is sweet and he could have entered by way
of the root to become good. Consequently, man turns his evil deeds
themselves into good so that his intentional sins become good deeds. For
behold, the sinful deeds which he committed were persecutors from the Left
Side. When he returns in perfect repentance he causes those deeds to enter
and be rooted above. Now all those prosecutors are not annihilated but they
become better and rooted in the holy just as Cain was told he could be good.
Behold, if Cain had repented and rectified his sin, then the sin of Adam by
which Cain (the unclean envy) was born, would have been accounted to him
for merit, according to the secret of (Sanhedrin 104a) 'the son brings merit to
the father.' However, he did not desire to repent. Therefore, all the Left Side
draws its sustenance from there. But all its branches are destined to become
sweet and they will be perfect once again. This is so for the reason we have
given: that man roots himself in the secret of evil and renders it sweet and
brings it into the good. Therefore, man purifies the evil inclination and brings
it into the good so that it becomes rooted above in the holy.
This is the level of repentance which one should follow: he should ponder on
Teshuvah each day and repent in some measure each day so that all his
days will be spent in repentance.

At January 29, 2008 at 7:26:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who is Rabbi Sears? I am new to this blog

At January 30, 2008 at 6:04:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

This morning I came across an idea in the Biala Rebbe's Maamar Techias Hameisim that provides additional insight into my original question. The Biala Rebbe taught, "There is a tradition from the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples, that every mitzvah and every discussion of our Sages is relevant to every person at all times."


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